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Health-care reform takes center stage at Vukasin Lecture

Health-care reform is worth taking a chance on, a leading health economist said March 26 at the Peter N. Vukasin Lecture.

“I’m up for trial and error,” said Mark V. Pauly, Bendheim Professor in the Department of Health Care Management at the Wharton School-University of Pennsylvania. “I think that’s probably the way to think about health-care reform from here on out. For some of these things, it’s silly to think about hypotheticals. Let’s see what happens and be prepared to change if it doesn’t work out.”

Pauly discussed the pros and cons of the health-care legislation, which the House passed, 219-212, on March 21. Two days later, President Obama signed the bill that would expand coverage to 32 million Americans who are now uninsured.

“There is good news, at least according to my wife, who said, ‘Dear, now you no longer have to talk back to the TV so much,’” Pauly said, drawing laughter from the crowd gathered in the Anderson Center Reception Room.

Pauly said that while he is in favor of “trial and error,” he does not believe the legislation settles the issue. He predicts that four topics will continue to generate controversy: the role of a public option; employer mandates; changes in the tax treatment of health insurance; and how to treat people who are high-risk or have pre-existing conditions.

“I don’t think the debate is over,” he said. “If I could do a Churchill impression, I’d say, ‘This is not the beginning of the end. This is just the end of the beginning.’”

Pauly also is skeptical of the ability to control the rising costs of the legislation. That cost could be the legacy of health- care reform, he said.

“Many of the final details will be forgotten,” he said. “We won’t remember the deal with Medicaid or the ‘Cornhusker Kickback.’ What we will remember is that we’ll be spending a lot of money on subsidies for the uninsured and that the federal government’s budget will be in deficit.”

But Pauly believes helping the uninsured is necessary, even if it means the average household seeing a $1,500-a- year increase in taxes.

“I think the main thing the country will get out of health reform is a clear conscience,” he said. “Is that a good price to pay for a clear conscience? Personally, I think it is, but it remains to be seen whether the American population will think that way.”

The Vukasin Lecture will be an ongoing event, Harpur College Dean Donald G. Nieman said. The event was made possible by a gift from Dr. Harold ’59 and Jo Cohen. Vukasin, who served as Harpur College dean from 1967-74, taught economics when Harold Cohen attended Harpur and was a role model and mentor to the man who is now president of a health-care consulting firm in Baltimore.

The Cohens and Vukasin attended the lecture. Nieman called Vukasin “a pivotal figure in the history of Harpur College.”

“(Vukasin) was instrumental in recruiting faculty who were true to the undergraduate teaching mission of Harpur and were also engaged in cutting-edge research,” Nieman said. “He helped Harpur navigate the troubled waters of the late 1960s and the early 1970s without the violence, disruption and acrimony that characterized a number of American campuses.”

Vukasin, who also taught at the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Illinois, Cornell University and the University of Ghana; and became vice president of academic affairs at SUNY New Paltz before retiring in 1988, expressed gratitude for the honor.

“I was attracted to (Harpur) because of its promise: A promise of providing a first-class undergraduate education in those times,” he said. “These expectations have been more than realized. This is a wonderful institution, and I’m deeply grateful for my renewed association with it today.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08